I. Technology: creativity and power [102 – 105]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Papa Francisco's 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

102. Humanity has entered a new era in which
our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads.
We are the beneficiaries of two centuries
of enormous waves of change: steam engines,
railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles,
aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine,
information technology and, more recently,
the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies
and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in
these advances and to be excited by the immense
possibilities which they continue to open up before
us, for “science and technology are wonderful
products of a God-given human creativity”.81
The modification of nature for useful purposes
has distinguished the human family from the beginning;
technology itself “expresses the inner
tension that impels man gradually to overcome
material limitations”.82 Technology has remedied
countless evils which used to harm and limit
human beings. How can we not feel gratitude
and appreciation for this progress, especially in
the fields of medicine, engineering and communications?
How could we not acknowledge the
work of many scientists and engineers who have
provided alternatives to make development sustainable?

103. Technoscience, when well directed, can
produce important means of improving the
quality of human life, from useful domestic appliances
to great transportation systems, bridges,
buildings and public spaces. It can also produce
art and enable men and women immersed in the
material world to “leap” into the world of beauty.
Who can deny the beauty of an aircraft or
a skyscraper? Valuable works of art and music
now make use of new technologies. So, in the
beauty intended by the one who uses new technical
instruments and in the contemplation of

  • 81 John Paul II, Address to Scientists and Representatives of
    the United Nations University, Hiroshima (25 February 1981), 3:
    AAS 73 (1981), 422.
  • 82 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29
    June 2009), 69: AAS 101 (2009), 702.

such beauty, a quantum leap occurs, resulting in a
fulfilment which is uniquely human.

104. Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear
energy, biotechnology, information technology,
knowledge of our DNA, and many other
abilities which we have acquired, have given us
tremendous power. More precisely, they have
given those with the knowledge, and especially
the economic resources to use them, an impressive
dominance over the whole of humanity and
the entire world. Never has humanity had such
power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will
be used wisely, particularly when we consider
how it is currently being used. We need but think
of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of
the twentieth century, or the array of technology
which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian
regimes have employed to kill millions of
people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly
arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare.
In whose hands does all this power lie, or
will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for
a small part of humanity to have it.

105. There is a tendency to believe that every
increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’
itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness,
welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new
values into the stream of culture”,83 as if reality,

 

83 Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87
(English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82).

goodness and truth automatically flow from technological
and economic power as such. The fact
is that “contemporary man has not been trained
to use power well”,84 because our immense technological
development has not been accompanied
by a development in human responsibility,
values and conscience. Each age tends to have
only a meagre awareness of its own limitations.
It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of
the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing
day by day that man will not use his power as
he should”; in effect, “power is never considered
in terms of the responsibility of choice which is
inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are
taken from alleged necessity, from either utility
or security”.85 But human beings are not completely
autonomous. Our freedom fades when
it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious,
of immediate needs, of self-interest,
and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked
and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing
power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We
have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot
claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and
spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits
and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.

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